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First Person: Positive Interaction Leader Maggie LaBarbera is a nurse who launched the educational website Nourish Interactive to help combat childhood obesity. In the guest article below, LaBarbera shares what inspired her to create the interactive website and what she has learned since its launch.

I was an ICU nurse for many years. During that time, I cared for many types of patients who had life-altering experiences. But I can remember being extremely touched by young teenagers suffering from morbid obesity who came to the hospital to voluntarily undergo gastric bypass surgery. This is major surgery in which the stomach is physically altered. Over time, the patients coming in for the surgery were younger and younger, and that concerned me.

Then I received a call from a family member who was worried after her child was diagnosed as obese. The doctor told her obesity could lead to other diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, and she was looking for solutions. After extensive research, I discovered that her child was part of a growing population of overweight children. There certainly were no easy answers. But the one thing I heard consistently from healthcare experts was that the best solution was prevention. I wanted to use my nursing expertise and business background to promote prevention through education. So in May 2008, I launched

Nourish Interactive is a free website dedicated to educating families about nutrition and exercise in a fun way. It is a 100 percent bilingual website, as every page, game and tool is printable in English and Spanish.

I believe that nutrition education needs to be fun and engaging so children will be excited to learn. Nourish Interactive provides free interactive online games for kids designed to teach healthy habits through animation, exploration and decision-making. Nourish Interactive also offers matching nutritional tools, one for parents and one for kids, so the entire family can work as a team to establish good nutrition habits at home. Early nutrition education is the key to empowering children to make healthy choices throughout their lives.

The website uses interactive video game technology to teach children about the importance of nutrition and exercise. I feel that children need characters and stories that will engage them during the learning process. My goal is to have every child not only learn the importance of a healthy lifestyle but think it is fun, a topic they enjoy and want to learn about.

Nourish Interactive is free to access, because I do not want there to be a barrier for families. I fund the website through ads and sponsorships on the parents webpages. However, I am proud that our children’s websection is an ad-free zone with no marketing to children — just a safe place for them to play and learn about good nutrition.

My goal was to create a website that helped children make positive associations with healthy foods. We see big money spent every year from high fat, high sugar food manufacturers using characters, games and toys to entice children to want their foods. I want to fight fun with fun, and help kids form positive associations witth healthy foods. 

Nourish Interactive also aims to provide parents with simple, quick, easy to implement suggestions. Parents are busy and don’t have time to read long articles, so Nourish Interactive offers materials that are short and to the point. There’s also a comprehensive section on the website that provides resources to educators, and my team and I have heard directly from teachers about how those resources are an integral part of their nutrition education programs. Pediatricians also use the materials to help guide their young patients to form healthy eating habits.

Despite not having a marketing budget, Nourish Interactive continues to grow. Our data shows that both the English and Spanish versions of the website are visited by users from more than 150 countries. We have more than 216,000 unique visitors each month, more than 270,000 visits and more than 1.5 million page views!

Nourish Interactive has received more than 2,500 emails and testimonials from parents, teachers, dietitians and nurses telling us how they use our materials and games as part of their program and how much children are learning and enjoying it. We are extremely proud of the recognition we have received, including from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which named Nourish Interactive as a top website for fighting childhood obesity. The American Library Association awarded the site its “Best Website for Kids” award, and Nourish Interactive also was recognized by two prestigious parent organizations.

As Nourish Interactive continues to grow, it is my hope that more young people will grow up healthy — and less young patients will find themselves undergoing gastric bypass surgery to cope with their obesity.

Click here to connect with Maggie LaBarbera.